Important life questions go unanswered far to often in the rush of day to day living and working; and suddenly for most of us as we follow the guidelines of quarantine, there is time to examine our quality of life—raising those questions that typically only surface in reflective minutes grabbed on vacation – a long weekend – perhaps even while being stuck in bed with a bad cold.
Today with the fear of serious illness that is constantly in the news – and in the foreground of our minds – our thoughts and our questions can take an exaggerated turn, escalating and creating unnecessary stress. Consequently I’m sharing the basic questions I hear in my private practice…and my best efforts to answer them.
-Is what I’m feeling normal? And how do I know if my anxiety and/or my depression is serious?
Most of us define our “own normal” based on “how different” we feel from time to time – and usually when there’s accelerated stress at home or at work that must be confronted and managed. Today because this crisis is quite different, the best thing to do to reassure yourself –like taking your own temperature – is construct a simple measurement for what you are feeling.
On a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being low or almost nonexistent and 10 being high/intense, first rate your level of anxiety, then your level of depression. Write your numbers in a notebook or calendar. Do this daily so you can clearly remind yourself of ups and downs or inconsistency in your feelings. If your numbers stay on the high end of the scale for several days in a row, take that as a sign you need to talk about what you’re feeling with someone you trust
While anxious and depressed feelings are normal in times of stress and crisis, the persistent feelings that do not quiet down, but accelerate, are what to pay attention to. Anxiety typically exhibits with racing thoughts, difficulty sitting still or concentrating and maintaining focus, rapid changes in what you’re doing/feeling, and trouble relaxing. Depression is expressed in feeling overly tired or low energy, loss of interest in what you normally do, poor concentration and failure to start or complete tasks, and negative thoughts about life in general.
When you can, talk about what you feel because for most of us, it truly does relieve the intensity of feelings. But if you simply can’t talk, write what you feel. Both speaking and writing can “metabolize” feelings and help you see what is manageable and what problems can be tackled and resolved.
-Are my dreams, sometimes nightmares a sign of a problem? Typically, it helps to think of dreams as a release – and as your “system trying to speak to you.” Write down as much as you can recall about dreams. See if you find messages or meaning. Basically regard the dreams as a release of stressful feelings, as an effort to “process” the days events. Disturbing dreams are most problematic when they disrupt sleep or make it hard to return to sleep. Make sure you take plenty of time away from news and tech devices for at least an hour before bedtime…preferable more! And right before lights out, create a positive mind set by writing five things you feel grateful for.
-Am I drinking and eating too much? It’s entirely possible to over due in both eating and drinking when normal work and social and family activities are dramatically changed. And if you’re asking yourself this question about amount, the answer is likely yes. Start to monitor your eating and drinking. Keep track of changes in your habits. Eliminate alcohol and unhealthy foods for three days and see how you feel…and again, talk about it.
-What will life look like in 6 months? A year? Most people are asking themselves about their work, relationships, health and financial well- being – and the multiplicity of things that will likely change in the weeks and months ahead. ANY unknown is typically a concern for most people and THIS unknown is truly unpredictable. Consequently a good approach is think about what you WANT.
-What changes have you already made? What changes would you like to make if and when you can? What do you want to ask for (from family, friends, colleagues) And what would you like to OFFER others? What are your bottom line values? What is consistent? What has changed? What decisions have been side-lined or perhaps become priorities?
Finally keep these things in the foreground for reflection.
-DO NOT believe all the things you THINK. Our minds typically “distort” facts and right now it’s easy to think life is “awful, terrible, and I can’t stand it!” Writing the thoughts down helps you see the distortions and hopefully regain perspective
-Don’t let emotions drive your decision making, especially when stress is high. Take lots of time to reflect on changes you have in mind. And keep your values in the foreground.
-Give up the need and drive to be in CONTROL. Control is an effort to make everyone do what you want, and that causes stress for everyone. Try instead to be IN CHARGE. The difference? Being in charge is being reflective, making choices and checking and negotiating your wants, desires, preferences with others. If you can let go of efforts to be in control, your anxiety and depression will loosen…perhaps gradually, but it does work…especially in such uncertain times.
Finally, if you don’t already do these things, consider them:
Create a daily schedule and stick to it.
Organize family meetings where everyone has a chance to talk about what they feel and need.
Embrace meditation, exercise, healthy eating….and gratitude
Please feel free to email me with concerns, questions, information on resources… firstname.lastname@example.org or access my website …. DrLindaLMoore.com